I want to secure our borders and fix our broken immigration system. Years ago, as a conservative personality, some of the words I used to describe this position sounded nasty and even anti-immigrant.
Ron Paul changed that.
Opposing illegal immigration was part of Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. But supporting him in 2008 and then working for his campaign in 2012, it struck me how very different he was when he spoke about this issue compared to other Republicans.
As I explained in Politico Magazine in 2013, “Paul was serious about border security, but unlike other Republicans, he didn’t seem angry or hateful.”
“Ron Paul blamed illegal immigration on government, not immigrants,” I noted. “If we had a truly free-market economy, the illegal immigrants would not be the scapegoat,’ Paul said at the third Republican debate in 2007.”
I was puzzled back then, “Not the scapegoat? Many conservatives, including me, had spent years scapegoating Hispanic immigrants themselves.”
“Paul never went there. He attacked government, not people,” I observed.
Donald Trump is causing controversy right now not because he’s discussing illegal immigration but because of how he’s discussing it. It doesn’t sound like he’s just attacking a government policy or inaction. It sounds like he’s attacking people.
It sounds like he hates Hispanics and immigrants. Trump sounds racist.
Many of his supporters say Trump’s just talking about illegal immigrants.
How we discuss issues matters. How others perceive us matters.
In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama said that some people in rural areas “cling to their guns or religion.” Millions of Americans believed Obama was demeaning conservative Christians and Second Amendment advocates. Obama later backpedaled, saying, “I didn’t say it as well as I should have.”
Obama assured us he wasn’t trying to put anyone down with his comments. Conservatives didn’t buy it.
Campaigning in 2012, President Obama was accused of insulting small business owners when he uttered the phrase “you didn’t build that.” Millions of Americans believed the president was attacking entrepreneurs. Obama said that he was misunderstood and that others were just “slicing and dicing” his words.
Many conservatives were offended by Obama’s comments, including me. To this day, I believe the president was insulting small business owners. Most conservatives I know still feel the same way.
If you were a conservative predisposed to believing that Barack Obama was antagonistic toward business owners, gun rights advocates and people of faith, his comments only confirmed your suspicions.
If you are a minority predisposed to thinking Republicans are racist or anti-immigrant, Donald Trump reinforces those perceptions in the most provocative way imaginable. His excited supporters fuel this perception.
So what do you think, exactly, Hispanic Americans and many others believe the Republican Party “is” right now?
In 2012, Paul told a Latino audience in Las Vegas, “I believe Hispanics have been used as scapegoats…” “Now there’s a lot of antagonism and resentment turned just automatically on immigrants,” he added.
Our border and immigration system is a mess. We will eventually have to create a system that works better for both the U.S. and immigrants. Few politicians have done this in substantive ways acceptable to voters in both parties, but particularly Republicans. That’s part of the reason for Trump’s current popularity.
But it is no excuse for Trump’s rhetoric. Ron Paul said in 2012, “When things go badly, individuals look for scapegoats.”
Trump is scapegoating illegal immigrants right now, plain and simple. Picking on the most powerless among us is how Democrats would love to portray the Republican Party.
It is also exactly how Trump is portraying it.